China disbars two rights defense lawyers

BEIJING Sun May 9, 2010 2:48am EDT

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BEIJING (Reuters) - Two human rights lawyers who represented defendants in sensitive cases, including members of the banned Falun Gong sect, have been permanently disbarred, according to the Beijing bureau of justice.

Tang Jitian, 42, and Liu Wei, 33, had their license to practice revoked after being accused by the Beijing municipal bureau of justice of "disrupting order in court and interfering with proper litigation procedure," according to a notice posted on the bureau's website.

Many Chinese dissidents and rights campaigners say the ruling Communist Party has been imposing tighter controls on lawyers who mount legal challenges to government power.

Over the past decade, a loose network of Chinese lawyers has sought to use litigation mixed with publicity to challenge laws and policies restricting citizens' movements, rights to protest and powers to challenge official decisions.

Liu told Reuters she planned to appeal, although she said she had not yet received official notification of the decision.

"I don't think there is much hope. If the government acts illegally, it acts illegally all the way through," Liu said.

"We'll try every avenue. If we don't succeed, we'll have to accept it. But I believe someday, there will be a reversal."

Very few lawyers have been willing to represent members of Falun Gong, which was banned in 1999 after thousands of members gathered in central Beijing to protest around the Communist Party headquarters.

Tang and Liu had walked out of a court in southwest China last year, to protest what they said was judicial meddling in a trial of a Falun Gong practitioner. The justice bureau said they had failed to follow the judges' instructions.

Tang's telephone was off on Sunday morning. He told Reuters after his initial hearing last month that he had no regrets.

The disbarment follows the brief reappearance in Beijing of prominent rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who had disappeared for over a year and who had also taken on controversial cases, including defending Falun Gong practitioners.

Amnesty International has taken up the case of Wang Yonghang, a Dalian-based lawyer who was sentenced to seven years in prison late in 2009 after defending Falun Gong members and challenging the legality of the crackdown in an online article. His license was revoked in 2008.

Over 3,300 Chinese Falun Gong practitioners have died in prison or due to abuse in the ten years of the crackdown, according to Falun Gong.

(Editing by David Fox)

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